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Product Focus: Baths and Chillers

Across research laboratories and industrial manufacturing facilities, many processes must be kept at a specific temperature, and that requires baths and chillers.

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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Keeping processes under temperature control

Across research laboratories and industrial manufacturing facilities, many processes must be kept at a specific temperature, and that requires baths and chillers. In terms of refrigeration, Amy Drummond, regional sales manager, USA, Grant Instruments (headquartered in Cambridgeshire, UK), says, “It’s one of our most diverse product ranges—spanning education, government, pharma, and industry.”

Even that does not describe the broad use of these products. In fact, the overall extent keeps changing. As Bob Given, director, product management, Thermo Fisher Scientific (Waltham, MA), says, “We kind of get surprised at some of the applications where people are looking to use some of our products.” As intriguing examples, he mentions video-game testers using chillers to get rid of the heat generated by the electronics, a topfuel dragster incorporating a chiller to keep the engine cool between heats, and even cooks applying special temperature control.

For the last example, Given says, “We were contacted by a restaurant that wanted to use our bath to start to precook chicken and other meats. Then, they vacuum sealed the meat in a marinade.” He adds, “They don’t need to freeze it after this process, and it makes it easy to do final preparation, like grilling or frying or pan searing.”

To make sure that everyone understands the breadth of this product area, Given says, “We touch everything from trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease to using our equipment to cool lasers.” Some of these applications require extremely reliable cooling. “In health care and the pharmaceutical industry,” Given says, “it could take six months to get a specimen ready to test, so our equipment can’t go down.”

Getting greener

For chillers in particular, energy use is a key concern, primarily because these devices consume considerable amounts of energy. “Due to the heat and noise generated refrigeration is not typically environmentally friendly, but manufacturers are aware of this and this is a key component in the design of new refrigeration products,” Drummond says.

Given agrees with the green trend, saying, “Energy use is very important.” He adds that reducing noise also matters. “For bath products in a lab,” he says, “you don’t want excessive noise.”

Tomorrow’s devices could be even greener. “In the future, we will see more thermal electric— Peltier—devices used in cooling and heating technology rather than Freon compressor-based units,” says Mark Circo, president and CEO at Tritech (Edgewater, MD).

Best buys

This market brings customers a wide variety of options. “In refrigeration,” says Drummond, “we have four different thermostats and five different refrigeration units, and you could have a combination of any of them. So you can imagine the variety.”

To get the right cooling product, a customer must consider many factors. First, what temperature is needed for the intended application? Also, how accurately must that temperature be maintained? As an example, J. Michael Trapp, laboratory director of the environmental quality laboratory at Coastal Carolina University (Conway, SC), says that the most important features are “the ability of the bath to hold very accurate and constant temperature.”

Other features, such as the size of the bath chamber, might also be considered. “Too large is as bad as too small,” says Circo. He adds that the types of controls also matter. “Analog controls are great if you use a constant temperature for your samples and do not need to adjust temp on a regular basis,” he says. “If you need to adjust temps for different samples, digital controls are the way to go, because they offer a more precise method for controlling temp.”

In many cases, customers could use some help deciding what features a bath product should provide. As Given says, “We find all too frequently that customers really can’t define their applications well enough in terms of how much power they need, how much heat load they have, and so on.” He adds, “It’s critical to take the time to understand all of the elements up front.” Vendors will also help a customer come up with the best specifications for a specific application.

Every aspect of an application, though, must be considered in order to get the best fit. “Are you using the device for the bath or do you need to pump water out to cool something?” Drummond asks. “Some production processes require pumping, such as heating or cooling a food mixture to see how temperature changes the components.” If an application does require cooling something, the size of the object must be considered when purchasing a cooling device.

Make the most of maintenance

Like any product, the key operating and maintenance tips can usually be found in one obvious place, the manual. As Drummond says, “We provide a very detailed description of how to clean and maintain a product in our manual.”

Still, Drummond points out some crucial things to keep in mind. For example, she says, “Don’t turn on the device when there is no liquid in it, because trying to heat or cool something that is not there damages the product.” She adds, “You must also use the correct cleaning products and fluid in the system itself. If you use corrosive cleaning products, for example, you can cause irreparable damage.”

Beyond putting in the right fluid at the start, Given points out that it must be maintained. So the fluid used in a bath should be replaced over time or adjusted for specific characteristics, such as pH.

Though baths and chillers can be used in many different industries, a device for a specific application must often meet very precise needs. To get the right device, a customer must know the necessary features, and the market provides a wide assortment of them.